Johnny Grey’s 26 Christmas Entertaining & Decorating Tips
Warm, charming and inviting kitchen designed by acclaimed kitchen designer Johnny Grey.
12 Holiday Decor Tips
- Create a portable cooking station. Buy a low-height, compact camping gas ring that sits on any surface. This creates an instant cooking space. Most hardware stores stock them for the price of a take-away meal.
- If you don’t have a hutch or dresser, create a temporary one by adopting some shelves or a small piece of found furniture like a carte or trolley so that you can make a harvest festival style display. Bring out various sized bowls and fill to overflowing with produce, whether nuts, egg plants, tangerines and pumpkins in all their sizes, colors and shapes.
- Spruce up your window sill, shelf, or dresser. Signs of abundance add a reassuring dimension to the Christmas spirit.
- Your eyes can make your mouth water. Make sure you have somewhere to plate and serve. If necessary bring in a trolley (cart for our USA readers) from another room.
- A splash of color change. Take one wall and repaint it with a dark rich color. Choose one that is quick to do without too many fiddly bits to paint around.
- Find some old hooks and screw into a ceiling joist. Having things hanging down is very festive, not just dried hams but herbs, onions and open baskets of colorful goodies.
- Buy one of those clip-on lights to illuminate a dark spot. Place it on a shelf where you won’t hit it when you lean forward. You may be surprised how it changes your pattern of use.
- Use one of your spare Christmas tree lights and dress up a piece of kitchen furniture.
- If your table is too small, extend it by buying a sheet of cheap ply 8mm thick and cut it to (any) shape you like. All you need is a tablecloth and you are all set for dinner with extended family and friends – with space for decorations, candles, big serving plates, and that fine china on its annual outing.
- Gather holly or evergreen branches and spray with silver or gold paint. Tuck them behind pictures or mirrors; tape them onto shelves or dressers.
- Wind string around hooks, the stems of light fittings and pined onto shelf or architraves and place Christmas cards upside down card-to card. That way you can see all the friends who have sent you their wishes as a constant reminder of the affection.
- Candles everywhere, placed around fire-safe things including fruits, bowls of seasonal produce. Tea lights along the edges of horizontal surfaces makes the room more dramatic, and feel longer or wider!
6 Holiday Cooking and Preparation Tips
- Buy a copy of Elizabeth David’s Christmas a book dedicated to holiday cooking. It’s chock full of out-of the-ordinary ideas. I might be biased because she was my aunt and she cooked for us during my childhood, but it is the only cookbook I know that offers an original view with a choice of light, traditional, rich and seasonal recipes. It’s wittily written and accurate with the listing of ingredients.
- Hibernate. Think of Ratty’s kitchen in Wind in the Willows which feels so modest, reassuring and safe from the world above. Fall into a sleepy routine of book reading, games, TV viewing, preferably around a fire, with plenty of time for strolls.
- Eye contact allows for conversation so when you cook and prep do it facing into the room.
- The pace makes a difference to the enjoyment and sense of satisfaction of cooking. If you create a sense of order, starting with sharp knifes, accessible recipe instructions and well laid out utensils cooking becomes a pleasure, a craft not a grind and the pace can be more easily sustained.
- Cook Christmas day lunch the day before so you don’t have to cook twice on the same day. Serve the different dishes like tapas, putting them on display for all to take in. (This should allow the cook to earn brownie points and escape the washing up.)
- Debate the menu in detail but if you can get everyone to make something. Democratize the cooking. Its more fun, exciting and takes the burden away from any one person.
8 Entertaining Tips for Christmas Day
- Cook together. Accept help from anyone keen to join in. Adapt your kitchen to have two prep zones by using the table or bringing in a temporary one on trestles.
- Stretch and share the music menu. It’s very important everyone gets a look in, so along with seasonal family popular choices like old musicals, carols and contemporary favorites.
- For dinner, dress up in something posh. Iconic fancy or vintage dress for dinner makes it feel important, theatrical, or even slightly absurd, but memorable.
- Traditional fare for Christmas dinner can be straight forward. Meat – whether turkey or goose with spiced up bread sauce and gravy – and two vegetable dishes is the norm for our family.
- We still enjoy child-friendly desserts; it makes us recall Christmases past. We usually luxuriate in home made ice cream and biscuits, the former made in advance but not churned until we sit down to the second course (texture is everything). Fine wines for each course, favorite old glasses and candles everywhere, crackers to nibble on and lots of chat about the last year.
- You can live comfortably on the leftovers for several days, so cook generous quantities of everything. One of the joys is these only need reheating. The cook can take a break and meals eaten casually without much pre-planning. (In other words, try to get some relaxation during your winter holidays).
- Make Christmas day lunch light and savor the prospect of dinner.
- Get some fresh air. Wining and dining can quickly turn to over-indulgence, and my family always finds it refreshing to walk off a feast and encourage an appetite, especially on Christmas day between lunch and dinner. A bracing hike and the mood is set for a feast.
About Johnny Grey
British kitchen designer Johnny Grey was born in London and raised on a farm in the Sussex Downs in England. One of his first kitchen projects was for his maternal aunt, British cookery writer Elizabeth David.
Johnny was later educated at the London Architectural Association School of Architecture. After graduating, he set up a design studio and furniture workshop and also pursued a brief career as an antique dealer.
In the early 1980s, while working with British kitchen manufacturer Smallbone of Devizes, he pioneered the “Unfitted Kitchen,” resulting in a new freedom and creativity for designing kitchens, bedrooms, and bathrooms without built-in rigidity of continuous counters and wall based units.
Johnny has authored and contributed to several volumes on kitchen and home design: Kitchen Culture: Re-inventing Kitchen Design; The Complete Home Design Book; The Hard-Working House; The Kitchen Work Book; and The Art of Kitchen Design.
For the last several years, Johnny has been involved with neuroscience research at the University of Salford in Manchester, UK with Professor John Zeisel on the subject of well-being and architecture. His global speaking engagements have included a design tour of Canada, Australia and New Zealand to discuss “Sociability and Sanctuary” of kitchen design. In 2008, Johnny won the Simon Taylor Award for lifetime achievement in the kitchen industry.